If you’re sweating a huge property tax bill, writing an enormous check to the local tax man might not be as inevitable as you think. While each municipality uses its own formula to determine property taxes, all base their calculations on the assessed value of your home. Because of this, particularly when home values decline after an assessment or when assessors cut corners, your home may be overvalued when assessed for property taxes. Although challenging an assessment can be a bureaucratic pain, having your home reassessed can drastically reduce your property tax bill.
Collect your home’s record – usually known as its property card or worksheet – at the county or city’s assessor’s office, and get nit-picky about the details it contains. Verify that it reports your lot and your home’s square footage correctly, and that your home’s basic details, such as the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, are accurate. Note any inaccuracies.
Compare your home’s assessed value against similar homes in your area. Your home’s value should be about the same as homes of the same age with the same square footage and number of bedrooms and bathrooms. While improvements and lot sizes may affect each home’s assessed value, note if your home’s assessed value seems higher than that of comparable homes in the neighborhood.
Examine real estate sales history in your area. If home values sharply declined since your home’s last assessment, the assessment may not represent the fair market value of your property. Again, try to compare home prices only for properties similar to your home.
Determine if any environmental factors may negatively impact your home’s value, lowering it from similar properties in your neighborhood. If you live close to a busy street, on the edge of a development next to an industrial park or on a lot that has an unfavorable view, you may be able to argue for a lower assessment.
Develop your case. If your home was incorrectly assessed, with errors in square footage or number of rooms listed on the property card, you may simply need to present a blueprint that illustrates the errors. If you believe your home was assessed at a value too high, use data from similar homes in the area to back up your argument.
Meet with assessors. Many times, you’ll be able to informally meet with an assessor and present your case to him, particularly if you catch an error on a property card. Present your case to the assessor, and listen to the explanation of his assessed value of your home. Take notes during his explanation if you disagree. You may often be successful in your quest to reassess your home after an informal meeting.
Schedule a formal assessment hearing if you don’t make headway with the assessor and still believe that your home’s assessed value is unfair. You’ll need to be prepared to present evidence of other homes or errors in your own card. Have copies of property cards and blueprints ready to present at the hearing.
- Some homeowners turn the task of reassessment over to companies who help homeowners fight their assessments. While these companies bring expertise of the system and a knack for understanding home values, it's not as budget-friendly as fighting City Hall yourself.
Wilhelm Schnotz has worked as a freelance writer since 1998, covering arts and entertainment, culture and financial stories for a variety of consumer publications. His work has appeared in dozens of print titles, including "TV Guide" and "The Dallas Observer." Schnotz holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Colorado State University.